The Secret World of Alex Mack has always been one of my favorite shows to watch on Nickelodeon. I loved the wholesome but fiercely environment it provided. Not to mention that Alex Mack had such cool powers! The success can be contributed to one thing and that’s the writer/co-creator of the series Ken Lipman. I was fortunate enough to do an email exchange with Ken where he talked about the the style of it and it’s beloved following. Also he was the executive producer for the short lived series Noah Knows Best and he talked about the hardships of the show which lead to a very quickly cancellation of it.
- How did you know you always wanted to work in television?
I didn’t always want to work in TV, it was something that I came to in my late 20’s. I had always written, and had studied journalism at NYU, but I wasn’t a huge TV watcher, and I guess I never envisioned ending up working in it. My career as a writer began when I was writing plays in NYC with Ted Heller, my writing partner (who coincidentally became a driving creative force at Nick Magazine many years later.) But when we had a play work shopped in LA, I met a lot of people in the business and eventually decided to move out to LA and try my hand at film and TV writing. I got a job through a friend and it was for a kids show – Kids Inc. – and I sort of found my niche in kids TV from there.
- When The Secret World of Alex Mack was first presented, how did you and Thomas Lynch come up with its inspiration?
When I was working on Kids Inc., Lynch’s company made a deal to write 5 pilots for Nick in the hopes that one would get produced as a pilot. Lynch had some one line idea like “a boy gets hit by lightning, gets secret electrical powers, and uses them for mischief.” I remember him handing me that and saying something like “can you do something with that?” and the rest is history. The first draft of Alex, he was a boy. It was Nick’s excellent idea to make him a girl – they wanted to find something to replace Clarissa, which was ending.
- Do you think Alex Mack could’ve been filmed in Florida at the Nickelodeon Studios?
Alex Mack could not have been filmed at Nick Studios. Alex was a single-camera show, a film show, and we shot it like a little movie – no live audience, no multiple cameras, we shot outside, etc. The Studio was built for game shows and sitcoms, shows where an audience participated.
- What made you want to try Noah Knows Best?
After 78 episodes of Alex, I was a little bored with the heightened reality/sci-fi/gimmicky aspect of the show and had felt the reason that it worked and resonated with kids was more about the characters than the powers. I also am a city guy, grew up in NYC, and really wanted to do a contemporary, urban, single-camera comedy that took place in NY. Noah was something I really wanted to try and even though it was a different idea for Nick, and they didn’t warm to it immediately, I appreciated when they green lit for pilot. Unfortunately, their view of what the show should be and my vision of the show were not the same and they never really matched up, which was ultimately a reason for its lack of success. And the big thing was, I wanted to shoot it the same way I had shot Alex, with many of the same directors, writers and crew members, but they wanted it for Nick Studios, which, as I mentioned above, was built for a different kind of show. I tried to thread the line between sitcom and single-camera show and it was never one or the other. I’m still proud of the show, but what I wanted it to be was not what Nick wanted and it was a battle all the way.
- What was your first impression of Nickelodeon Studios when you got there?
I remember going there to shoot the pilot and thinking that the Studio seemed lacking in activity overall. The people working there were all very nice and created a friendly environment, but after coming from film-friendly LA, there just did not seem like there was a big enough pool of creative people to draw from. I could tell the Studio had seen better, more active days, and I could see why they wanted to funnel another show to it. But I liked being there and felt comfortable. Once we got picked up for series, I still would have preferred to be in LA so I could work with more people I had worked with and come to respect over the Alex years, but I had confidence that I could make it work in Orlando. We hired a great DP named Nick Woolfolk, who was a joy to work with and made the experience more pleasant.
- What was a typical day like being there?
I was staying in a corporate apartment and remember that you had to have the AC running 100% of the time, and the blast of heat that would hit me when I left my apartment or the Studio was unforgettable. I would spend most of my days with the other writers writing, and would hand the show off to each episode director and only come down to watch run-throughs and rehearsals and filming. I was otherwise dealing with my Nick exec, Gwen Billings, and Margie Cohn, Nick head of programming, and that part of the experience was not fun. Nick was beginning to change into a network that was moving toward broad sitcoms, and that was not my style, and we just never completely saw eye to eye on what the show should be.
- Do you remember other shows being filmed where you were at?
I remember we were shooting at the same time as Taina, and that crew and their execs were very nice and I was glad they were there so it didn’t feel so alone. Taina was a sitcom, and more in line with what Nick was wanting to do, as opposed to my snarky NYC sibling rivalry show.
- One of the highlights was the studio tour where the guests could see through a glass monitor from up above while seeing you all film or rehearse. How often was it that you got to interact with fans?
Again, one of the reasons Noah wasn’t a good fit was that we did not film in front of a live audience, so we would see fans passing by and looking down at our rehearsals etc., but I’m not sure they could figure out exactly what they were seeing. It seemed like an amusing gimmick to have fans passing through like that – I remember thinking “is this a theme park attraction or a real studio?”
- What was one of the good things about living and working in Orlando?
I am a NYC boy who had lived in LA for over 10 years so Orlando wasn’t my favorite place to be – hated the weather and the lack of great restaurants. But I did like feeling very focused on the job. I was away from my family and friends, so there wasn’t a lot for me to do but work on Noah, which was helpful.
10. Was there a reason why NKB was cancelled so quickly?
I just don’t think the network ever really got behind it, and it ended up being too conventional and non-conventional at the same time. I also think the network was in transition and didn’t know where they were going at that time – they were moving eventually toward broad, multi-camera sitcoms, and that wasn’t what Noah was.
11. I was surprised to see that Game Lab (stage 17) had the actual title logo of Alex Mack hanging up on the wall as a prop. Were you ever aware of this?
That doesn’t ring a bell, but nice to know we are remembered there.
12. Have you ever been slimed?
13. Did you have a favorite ride at Universal Studios Florida?
Not a theme park guy.
14. Do you still talk to anyone from either shows?
I still talk to few old Alex Mack people, and I’m actually doing a show now for Amazon Studios and I’m working with 3 Alex Mack crew members, including Kristan Andrews, the production designer. I also saw Will G. last year – I ran into him in my building lobby in downtown LA, and then we had coffee together. Love that guy.
15. How great was all the staff who worked there? I always hear positive stories.
The staff at Nick Studios was extremely friendly and laid back. I do think at the time Noah was there, they were probably all a little concerned about their jobs and the studio’s future, but they were friendly and fun nevertheless.
16. Favorite behind the scenes memory from both sitcoms.
I have many Alex Mack memories, but my most lingering Noah/Orlando memory is taking a month to write an episode starring the pop band Hanson, and at the last moment their manager/father decided it made them look bad and wouldn’t agree with doing it and I stayed up all night writing a less offensive version that they ultimately agreed to. Even though I thought the first version I had written for them brilliant – it was about a pop band being chased thru the streets of NYC and ending up at Noah’s apartment to avoid the fans ands hang out. But the guys were just lazy and wanted to order in food and watch TV, so eventually Noah and his sister couldn’t get them to leave. Their dad didn’t like the idea that they looked “lazy”. Ugh.
17. How do you feel knowing that Alex Mack and the rest of 90s Nickelodeon made such a positive impact on fans and is still loved today?
I love it. 99.5% of it is Alex. No one remembers Noah.
18. What do you think made Nick Studios so great and special?
I’m not sure it was the Studio, but Nick’s heyday was in the early 90’s when it was original and unique and inventive and shows were done there. Once Nick became corporate and began to chase Disney Channel’s tail, it lost all its coolness and the Sudio suffered.
19. Would you like to see it be re-opened?
If Nick has cool and inventive content that could be shot there, definitely.